Europe’s top tech innovators

This is not your ordinary startup list.

By Michael Stothard

Mursal Hedayat, co-founder of Chatterbox

What if there was no such thing as “real”? What if food could be made from thin air? What if electronics could last forever? These are some of the questions being tackled by Europe’s top tech innovators identified by our team here at Sifted, in association with the co-working space Second Home and their Breakthrough event this month.

This is not your ordinary innovator list. You may not have heard of these startups. They are under five years old and have raised less than €30m. But they are all, we think, the real deal in terms of innovation. If they succeed, people’s lives will change. A true dent will be made in the universe. Take a peek into the future.

We also invited our select few below to recommend others that inspire them or that they think of as innovators, either in their specialist field or local ecosystem or just as globally-minded entrepreneurs looking to change the world, in hopes of adding richness and depth to the list.


What if there was no food waste?

Elsa Bernadotte, Karma
Elsa Bernadotte, Karma founder
Elsa Bernadotte, Karma co-founder
One-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted — approximately 1.3bn tonnes a year, or $680bn worth. But what if it could be different? Swedish startup Karma is preventing unused food from being sent to landfill, connecting customers looking for cheaper produce with restaurants, cafés and grocery stores getting rid of excess stock. Elsa Bernadotte, who co-founded Karma with Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, Ludvig Berling and Mattis Larsson, says they already have more than 1,500 institutions signed up.
Key facts: Swedish. Founded in 2015. Total funding $16m.

Elsa Bernadotte's top innovators

  • Justin Byam Shaw, founder of The Felix Project, a UK food charity rescuing edible food waste
  • Tristram Stuart, food waste campaigner and founder of Toast Ale, a beer made from surplus beer [more]
  • Jenny Costa, founder of Rubies in the Rubble, a sustainable food brand making condiments from surplus ingredients.
  • Natalie de Brun, co-founder of Grönska, a Swedish tech-company in the vertical farming industry
  • Fleur Berlinger, founder of Zero Waste France, which advocates waste reduction and recycling in France.


What if food sprung from thin air?

Pasi Vainikka, Solar Foods
Pasi Vainikka, chief executive of Solar Foods

Finnish tech startup Solar Foods is producing food made largely out of water, electricity and air. Solar Foods uses electricity to split water cells to produce hydrogen. It then adds carbon dioxide and nutrients such as potassium, sodium, and phosphorus, and feeds this into microbes derived from the soil to produce food. The process results in cells that are 50% protein, with the rest carbohydrate and fat. The idea, while still being trialled, is that it will create a food source that is not dependent on weather, irrigation or soil. The company, founded by Juha-Pekka Pitkänen and Pasi Vainikka has teamed up with the European Space Agency to develop a system for producing proteins for space flights to Mars. This could be the future of food.

Key facts: From Finland. Founded in 2017. Total funding €2m.

Pasi Vainikka's top innovators


What if you could eat your spoon?

Tiphaine Guerout, Koovee
Tiphaine Guerout, Koovee-founder
Tiphaine Guerout, Koovee-founder

You’re having a picnic and using a plastic spoon. Then you tidy up and throw it away. No big deal. Well sure, but there are six million tonnes of single-use plastic which are thrown out every year, which is wreaking havoc on our oceans. So here is a startup which is reinventing the disposable spoon, selling edible cutlery (made from wheat and tastes like a cracker) to reduce waste plastics. It’s also, potentially, a hugely profitable space. Not only are consumers turning against plastics, but there is a ban on plastic cutlery across the EU set to come into force in 2020. 

Key facts: From France. Founded in 2017.

Tiphaine Guerout's top innovators

  • Gaspard Schmitt, co-founder at Side, a French startup which matches students with companies for short term jobs.
  • Marion Weber, co-founder of Oden, a French beauty startup. [more]
  • Raphael Masvigner – co-founder of Circul’R, which attempts to empower people in the circular economy
  • Sabrina Albayrak, co-founder of Arbitryum, a social enterprise
  • Nicolas Morin-Forest, co-founder of Supreme, a startup aimed at making cruelty-free Foie Gras


What if your app was a contraceptive?

Elina Berglund, Natural Cycles
Elina Berglund, co-founder of Natural Cycles
Elina Berglund, co-founder of Natural Cycles

Despite the excitement around period tracking apps, Natural Cycles is still the only mobile application cleared for marketing as a certified contraceptive in Europe and the US. The app helps women track body temperature to predict when they are the most fertile and when they are not, aiming for a tech alternative to the contraceptive pill and other birth control methods. Founded in Sweden, it has had some serious problems convincing the world that it should be a trusted contraceptive, but it now boasts 800,000 users (as of June 2018). It was founded by Elina Berglund Scherwitzl and Raoul Scherwitzl.

Key facts: From Sweden. Launched in 2014. Has raised $37.5m.

Elina Berglund's top innovators

  • Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of genetics testing startup 23andme
  • Fabiola Gianotti, is the director general of the physics lab CERN, the first woman to hold this position [more]
  • Piraye Beim, founder of Celmatix, a personalized medicine company focused on fertility
  • Kate Ryder, founder of Maven, a digital clinic for women
  • Gwynne Shotwell, the chief operating officer of the US space company SpaceX


What if amputees could be superheroes?

Samantha Payne, Open Bionics
Samantha Payne, Open Bionics co-founder
Samantha Payne, Open Bionics co-founder

Open Bionics makes lightweight, 3D-printed arms and has gained attention for making superhero-themed prostheses based on Star Wars, Disney and Marvel characters. The arms, which are operated through a series of small controls in the socket, are the only ones affordable enough to be covered by the UK’s National Health Service. Its big innovation is bringing super-hero technology to ordinary people. Special sensors within the arm detect muscle movements, meaning users can precisely control their bionic hand. Plus, they look incredibly cool. The company was co-founded by Samantha Payne and robotics engineer Joel Gibbard.

Key facts: From Bristol. Founded in 2014. Total funding $8.8m.

Samantha Payne's top European innovators

  • Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit Fruit Industries, making fun electronics kits.
  • Catherine Allen, founder of Liminia Immersive, the UK’s first virtual reality theatre
  • Silas Adekunle, founder of Reach Robotics, which is making dexterous robots that are used in classrooms to teach robotics.
  • Anouk Wipprecht, who has been pushing the edge of what’s possible in the world of wearable technology.
  • Ed Rogers at Bristol Braille Tech, developing a digital Braille e-reader.


What if trucks drove themselves?

Robert Falck, Einride
Robert Falck, founder of Einride
Robert Falck, founder of Einride

Earlier this year Einride made history when it began freight deliveries on a public road in Sweden using driverless electric trucks. Einride’s T-Pod truck, resembling a kind of strange space-helmet, is 26 tonnes when full and does not have a driver cabin. Its road freight operating costs are around 60% lower than a diesel truck with a driver, says Einride. The company is a true pioneer in the world of autonomous trucking and says it plans to have 200 vehicles in operation by the end of 2020. It was founded by Filip Lilja, Linnéa Kornehed and Robert Falck.

Key facts: From Sweden. Founded in 2016. Has raised $9.1m

Robert Falck's top innovators

  • Elina Berglund, Natural Cycles, period tracking contraceptive app
  • Anders Fogelberg, FlexQube, which supplies modular material handling equipment [more]
  • Niklas Zennström, head of venture capital firm Atomico
  • Daniel Ek, founder of music company Spotify
  • Niklas Östberg, co-founder of delivery startup Delivery Hero


What if AI could make drugs?

Noor Shaker, GTN
Noor Shaker, GTN founder

Designing a new drug takes an average of 15 years and costs around £2bn to bring to market. Noor Shaker and theoretical physicist Vid Stojevic have a plan to cut these numbers in half, developing computer models capable of discovering new drugs exponentially faster than humans using quantum physics and machine learning. Shaker was a computer science student at Damascus University who left Syria in 2008 to take a series of academic posts in Belgium and Denmark. She eventually joined the company-builder Entrepreneur First in London and has won millions in venture capital funding for GTN.

Key facts: From the UK. Founded in 2017. Has raised $2.1m

Noor Shaker's top innovators


What if you could touch sound?

Daniel Büttner, Lofelt
Daniel Büttner, Lofelt
Daniel Büttner, co-founder of Lofelt

Lofelt is a pioneering German startup in the world of haptics, which is using the physics of sound waves to give us a new way to interact with machines. A basic form of haptics has been in the tech industry for more than 30 years, ever since Motorola pagers first started vibrating in pockets to alert their owners. But the company is trying to take haptics to a new dimension, by borrowing from audio technologies to create much more realistic tactile experiences — being able to simulate the feeling of textures like grass, snow or wood. Coming soon: healing Parkinson symptoms through haptics.

Key facts: Germany. Founded in 2014. Has raised $6.7m

Daniel Büttner's top European innovators


What if you could be cured?

Maya Zlatanova, FindMeCure
Maya Zlatanova, co-founder of FindMeCure

For those with untreatable illnesses, an experimental medical trial is a potential lifeline. But finding one is hard, often requiring connections, knowledge and research. That is why Maya Zlatanova and her co-founders Miroslav Valchev and Ivaylo Yosifov set about creating the so-called “Google for clinical trials”, a platform to help people find trials. It’s also potentially a boon for the pharmaceutical industry, which spends billions every year on finding patients. Already more than 2,000 people have applied and been matched to clinical trials via FindMeCure. And clients include Novartis, IQVIA and Syneos Health.

Key facts: From Bulgaria. Founded in 2015. Has raised $420k.

Maya Zlatanova's top European innovators

  • Greg Koski,  co-founder of the Alliance for Clinical Research Excellence and Safety, which is trying to build a global clinical research network
  • Michelle Longmire, founder of healthcare startup Medable [more]
  • Charles Fisher, founder of UnlearnAI, a computational clinical trials startup
  • Vas Narasimhan, chief executive of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis
  • Wout Brusselaers, founder of Deep 6 AI, which is matching patients for clinical trials


What if nothing online was “real”?

Victor Riparbelli, Synthesia
Victor Riparbelli, co-founder of Synthesia
Victor Riparbelli, co-founder of Synthesia

This controversial startup is developing deepfakes: photorealistic computer-generated humans. Synthesia is the company behind a recent video of David Beckham where the soccer player appears to be speaking with different voices. It’s creepy, but this may be the future of the internet. Riparbelli says that we are just a few years away from having computer-generated versions of actors that are so good, they’re indistinguishable from real humans. The company was founded by Victor Riparbelli , Matthias Niessner, Lourdes Agapito and Steffen Tjerrild.

Key facts: From the UK. Founded in 2017. Has raised $4.1m

Victor Riparbelli's top innovators

  • Edward Miller, the founder of Scape Technologies, which is building a digital framework for the physical world
  • Tobias Rijken, co-founder of Kheiron Medical, which supports the work of breast radiologists with machine learning software.
  • Tony Beltramelli, the co-founder of UIzard, which is developing AI-powered tools to change the way people build software.


What if your smartwatch worked forever?

Omar Link and Simon van der Jagt, Nowi
Omar Link and Simon Jagt, Nowi
Simon van der Jagt (left) and Omar Link (right), co-founders of Nowi

There will soon be 30bn connected devices around the world, from smartwatches to traffic sensors. All of them will need power. Nowi has created a small chip which continuously brings energy to a device in lieu of wires or batteries, by using the power that is already available nearby – for example, light, heat, movement or even radio waves. This should enable the creation of products that are either completely batteryless or hybrid battery devices with an extended lifetime. In short, it is set to power the next generation of connected cities and consumer wearables.

Key facts: From Delft, the Netherlands. Founded in 2015. Has raised €2.5m in seed funding.

Omar Link and Simon van der Jagt's top innovators


  • Eric Geboers, co-founder of 3D printing startup Concr3de 
  • Sam Ryan, founder of VR training startup Parable [more]
  • Ferdinand Grapperhaus, founder of Physee, which makes transparent electricity and data generating windows
  • Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup, which develops advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic



What if farming was perfect?

Matija Zulj, Agrivi
Matija Zulj, founder of Agrivi
Matija Zulj, founder of Agrivi

Agrivi makes farm management software. Sure, it may not sound very exciting but the company is trying to solve a huge problem in the farming industry, which is that best practices in farming are difficult to access all over the world and there is little in the way of affordable software on the market to help farmers make data-driven decisions. The company has more than 30,000 clients in 150 countries worldwide. Farmers from Brazil to Serbia are using the product to improve yields.

Key facts: From Croatia. Founded in 2013. Has raised $1.4m

Matija Zulj's top innovators


What if all refugees could teach?

Mursal Hedayat, Chatterbox
Mursal Hedayat, co-founder of Chatterbox
Mursal Hedayat, co-founder of Chatterbox

Kabul-born Mursal Hedayat knows first hand the struggles of being a refugee, and how hard it can be to get work. So with co-founder Guillemette Dejean she launched Chatterbox, a startup which trains refugees to teach their native languages and then as a second step employs them on their online language courses for individuals who want to learn. It’s innovative because it’s a potential model for how tech can help integrate migrant populations across Europe. “I started Chatterbox because I was a bit fed up with the misperception of refugees as a threat or a burden,” said Hedayat in a recent interview. “I was a refugee, and so was my family of doctors, lawyers, and engineers from Afghanistan. Like many other talented members of our community, she faced significant challenges finding work that made use of her ample talent.”

Key facts: From London. Founded in 2016. Has raised £68k.

Mursal Hedayat's top innovators

  • Lucrezia Bisignani, co-founder at Kukua, which has created a mobile app that aims to teach African children to read and write.
  • Nick Shek, co-founder of recruitment app Headstart
  • Laurie Ainsley at Poplar, which creates AR experiences


What if gig workers could get mortgages?

Sho Sugihara, Portify
Sho Sugihara, co-founder of Portify
Sho Sugihara, co-founder of Portify

Around 162m people across the EU now work in the gig economy. Independent workers, freelancers, contingent workers, whatever you want to call them, are one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Most make under £10,000 a year, although some highly paid professionals may pull in considerably more. But all independent workers share one problem: they are incredibly poorly served by the current financial system. Portify has the idea of providing financial services specifically for gig sector workers. It is one of a few new startups offering services specifically tailored for this growing segment of the population, but is one we particularly respect and have been following.

Key Facts: From the UK. Founded in 2017. Has raised £1.3m

Sho Sugihara's top innovators

  • Tram Abramov, chief executive at tax startup Tax Scouts
  • Harry Franks, co-founder of insurance startup Zego
  • Mina Nada, chief executive of Bolt Bikes, the ebike startup which has helped Deliveroo riders increase their income by leasing them e-bikes.


What if fashion retailers had no excess stock?

Milan Daniels and Max Klijnstra, Otrium
Milan Daniels and Max Klijnstra, founders of Otrium
Milan Daniels and Max Klijnstra, founders of Otrium

Excess stock is a problem for fashion retailers. They have to sell it at the end of the season on sale or through outlet stores or flash sales companies such as Vente Privee — usually for a severely knocked down price. Getting rid of unsold fashion stock is a €30bn market in Europe. Otrium is offering brands higher prices and more control over their stock, trying to replicate the outlet store online. The startup now has 600,000 registered users and says revenues are growing 400% a year.

Key facts: From Holland. Founded in 2016. Has raised €8.6m.

Milan Daniels and Max Klijnstra's top innovators

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